Even though doctors diagnosed Tim North in January with late-stage stomach cancer, his fellow members of Indiana new-wave-era legends Dow Jones and the Industrials had no reason to believe their drummer would not make it back to Indiana for two reunion shows, the first at Radio Radio and the second
“He was out practicing the drums, and we were telling each other, ‘Man, we played fast back then!’” says Chris Clark, the band’s lead singer and bass player, and a friend of North’s since high school.
North, a Herron School of Art graduate who handled the band’s printing and graphic design in its 1978-’80 heyday, was even designing posters and T-shirts for the May 24-25 shows. “He’d never burden anybody with anything. I thought since I hadn’t heard anything, he would last for five years.”
Then “all of a sudden,” Clark says, he stopped seeing e-mails from North. “Then I got a voice-mail: ‘I had a bad week,’” Clark says. “And then he said, ‘But I’ve got to get these T-shirts done!’”
What happened was North’s stomach became obstructed and he couldn’t eat. North’s wife, Susie Manau, says when she checked him into a hospital near their Altadena, Calif., home, on May 6, it was their intention he would be there for only a few days until the blockage was taken care of, but it became apparent quickly “he was close to death.” Though not being completely conscious, he was able to speak with his family back in Huntington by phone.
Manau, with North, half of the experimental band Sauce of the Future, and their 10-year-old daughter Trista, sang to him to help alleviate his extreme pain. On May 7, at 9 p.m. California time, North died at the age of 42, in the presence of his wife and daughter.
North’s former bandmates were so stunned by North’s death, they wavered on whether to go through with the shows. “It really knocked us for a loop,” Clark says. After deciding, yes, they would still do them, the question was, do we go without a drummer?
Keyboard player and sound effects man Brad “Mr. Science” Garton already had transferred North’s drum parts into electronic form — that was done on the assumption that North wouldn’t be in condition to play, not that he would be dead.
The band finally decided it would lack punch without a live drummer, so LonPaul Ellrich is stepping in. However, the first song of the show, “What’s the Difference,” will be played with North’s drum part, in what Clark calls “our missing man formation.”
“Hopefully we can get through and make it a celebration, and not collapse in a heap of tears,” Clark says. “There’s a lot of apprehension now.”
“It’s not going to be quite as fun as it might have been,” Garton says. However, “it’s funny — when we played, the whole ethos of the time was that we get up there and do something fun. A few times, we’d trade instruments around, and we’ll do that again. That will be the spirit guiding things, and I think it’ll sound good.”
Local contemporaries like Mike Sheets and Dave Fulton — members of the Last Four Digits, also reuniting for the benefit at Radio Radio — came up with the idea of doing a benefit show after hearing in February that North was sick.
None of the Dow Jones members live in Indiana — Clark is in Colorado, Garton lives in New Jersey and guitarist Greg Horn is in Portland, Ore. — but all of them wanted to come back for the show. Then all of the Gizmos, which helped Dow Jones launch the original music scene as we now know it in Indiana, signed on to play for the first time in three years.
Last Four Digits also is reforming for the Radio Radio show. In fact, Sheets says, the enthusiasm for the Tim North benefit and the first Dow Jones reunion was so high, there were far more bands than time available.
“What this says is people may have separated over the years, but if someone is in need, they’re going to drop what they’re doing,” Sheets says. It’s reminiscent, he adds, of the days when they all struggled to get heard in an Indiana music scene that had few original acts and few places to play.
As testament to Dow Jones’ musical influence, Yo La Tengo, which played Dow Jones’ “Can’t Stand the Midwest” at a recent show at Birdy’s, is hustling to record a version of the song for a best-of Dow Jones CD that organizers hope to sell at the show. Clark says he and the band had been working on such a project before North got sick.
North, despite dying at a relatively young age, had a long career as a drummer. At age 9, he played in his father’s band; Clark remembers Larry North painting a mustache on Tim’s face for bar shows. (Larry North is playing at the Huntington benefit.) Clark and North played in various bands in high school, where they shared a common attitude of being bored with all that Huntington had to offer.
Clark, two years older than North, went off to Purdue and met Greg Horn, a Philadelphia native. They began going back to Huntington on weekends to jam with North. “You have to go where the drums are,” Clark says.
Garton joined after North graduated from high school and enrolled at Herron. Dow Jones was a phenomenon, at least in West Lafayette, where they would draw up to 500 people for shows, and gave Clark the prominence to win a “joke” election as student body president. But after the band broke apart — due to graduations, burnout and the usual band stuff — North wound up in San Francisco, where he became an integral part of the art and avant-garde scenes.
His major creation was the Hoverdrum, a suspended, revolving drum that was part instrument, part art piece. Legendary concert promoter Bill Graham was so impressed by it, he hired North and his Hoverdrum as backstage entertainment for touring rockers at arenas and stadiums.
But what Garton and Clark say was most remarkable about North was that he was a nice guy. He put together percussion compilations for his contemporaries in San Francisco, and he always welcomed people who needed a place to flop.
North did see one benefit show on his behalf in March in San Francisco, which he had left for the Los Angeles area after getting some audio and drumming work for movies, such as The Mothman Prophecies.
“Tim didn’t know how special he was until he got sick,” his wife said. Seeing the outpouring of support on his behalf, “in spite of the horrible, tragic condition he had, [his final months were] the happiest time in his life.”